Author – Wasim Quazi
Food security in India is a topic that never seems to go out of front page news. Now that the monsoons are deficient this year and there has been an international outrage against India’s insistence on subsidy to its farmers, the food security issue will not subside any time soon.
Despite the success of the Green Revolution in the early 1970-80s, our agricultural system is no way capable of being self-reliant both in terms of producing enough food as well as reducing the costly fertilizer imports. However, India has been able to create a large growing and self-sufficient poultry and the dairy farming industries, particularly at a time when more people prefer to be non-vegetarian.
The problem – Rising cost of inputs and disease management
While poultry and dairy farms are thriving across the country, their sustainability remains an issue to be addressed. Particularly, dairy farming requires large amounts of cattle feed, meal supplements, antibiotic drugs and other inputs. The dairy farming industry in India has grown massively in the last few decades to create the largest livestock population in the world. After witnessing steady success in milk and livestock production over the years, this industry is now facing several challenges.
A chronic shortage of cattle feed coupled with the poor quality of fodder has become the major constraint in dairy farming in India. In the current system of intensive livestock production, there is high emphasis on concentrate feeding, which has increased the cost of milk production and has substantially decreased the profits for farmers. The increasing cost of feed ingredients and its seasonal variability also adds to the gravity of the situation.
Intensive dairy farming requires the cattle to be placed in a confined facility for optimal productivity. However, these tightly packed facilities are over-crowded and are stressful to animals, making it easy for disease to spread. When thousands of cows are packed into feedlots full of manure and urine, bacteria can easily thrive. Since over-crowded animals are susceptible to infection, most industrial livestock facilities treat the cattle with low-levels of antibiotics to prevent illness and also promote weight gain. This not only creates a breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but also produces milk loaded with chemicals.
The solution – Sustainable dairy farming
Sustainable dairy farming in India is a new concept that prophesies the proper and efficient usage of the resources, without being over-exploitative. While this modern dairy farming method may look sophisticated in its approach, most of its key elements are derived from traditional farming methods. The key aspects of sustainable dairy farming revolve around three main elements:
Choosing the right breed of animal is the first aspect to be addressed in dairy farming. Most farmers choose animal breeds purely on milk yield without considering their suitability to the local climate, soil, feed availability, resistance to diseases & pests and environmental conditions. Typically, hybrid species such as HF or Jersey cows are very sensitive to extremely hot and dry climate. They also require extreme care in terms of disease control and food quality. So, indigenous breeds such as Murrah Buffalo or Sindhi cow would be more appropriate for Indian climatic conditions.
Building a hygienic cowshed is another important aspect to be considered. The building must protect the animals from adverse weather conditions and have adequate ventilation. Particularly, metal GI sheet roof must be avoided due to the intense heat experienced in Indian summer, which is harmful for any animal breed. Sufficient space must be provided at the feeder and water buckets to avoid competition among animals. Further, an effective herd health management program has to be developed and animals need to be regularly checked for disease symptoms. If animals are prevented from falling ill, there is no need for antibiotics.
Free range dairy farming is another concept that borrows from the traditional cow herding method. Here, cows and buffalos are allowed to freely roam and graze inside the farm or around the open fields. After allowing them to graze till after noon, they are herded back. However, this requires more labor.
The present day high yielding cattle breeds require a steady supply of feed and fodder. While most cattle feeds for conventional dairy farming are bought from the market, sustainable dairy feed need to be grown internally or bought locally in the village. While, dry fodder can be bought locally, green fodder needs to be grown inside the farm. High yielding Bajra Napier hybrids can be grown in fertile and well irrigated land, while Guinea grass can be grown in barren rain-fed land.
Apart from growing organic fodder, it is important to ensure the manure, urine and other waste are disposed off in compost pit. Prevent the untreated sewage sludge from being applied to land used to grow crops. Only composted organic matter must be used for fertilizing crops. Having a Biogas unit will not only solve the problem of waste disposal, but also provide ready manure for fertilizing crops.
Although dairy farming is not an energy-intensive activity, there is a need for electric power and heating. Instead of relying on the highly unreliable grid power from the electricity boards, farmers utilize diesel generators, which are costly to run. It would be sensible to utilize Biogas since the fuel input is readily available. Infact the natural gas produced from just four cows can fuel a kitchen of four people. Further, Biogas can be used for milk heating and chilling purposes as well. Biodiesel is another alternative that can be considered for running a diesel generator in remote places where electricity is not available. Solar power panels have become quite cheap today, so that farmers can afford to light up their entire household.
This way, sustainable dairy farming can not only be economically viable to small farmers, but also be eco-friendly by reducing carbon emissions and increasing organic fertility. Here are some of the best examples of sustainable dairy farming –
- Mysore-based Oxygen Acres farm built by Chida Shivanna is not only considerate towards the environment, but also created a sustainable business enterprise as well.
- Bhagyalaxmi Dairy Farm is one of the largest cow farm equipped with one of India’s first Rotary Parlors. The milking process has been turned with too much quality and hygiene.
- Akshayakalpa Farms & Foods, headed by veterinarian G.N.S. Reddy, is probably the first dairy industry to produce organic milk involving farmers in India. Akshayakalpa aims to establish 300 organic dairy farms to produce organic milk in the first phase.